Although less than two percent of national health expenditures go to education,
promotion and prevention of disease, this doesn’t reflect a lack of interest
among the public. At a recent Women’s Health Day organized for the 11th time at
Jerusalem’s Israel Museum by Hadassah University Medical Center’s Patricia and
Russell Fleischman Women’s Health Center, 2,000 people attended, and some even
tried to use their voices and elbows to get into the packed
Inside, professors of gerontology and gynecology, a senior
clinical dietitian and other professionals from Hadassah’s two Jerusalem medical
centers and others lectured while a jazz band played outdoors during the
“Every woman has a circle of influence on health – that of their
family and the community,” said Prof. Neri Laufer, retired chief of Hadassah’s
obstetrics and gynecology branch and now director of its Women’s Community
Health Center. We decided 13 years ago to launch a project not for treating
disease but to prevent it and promote the health of women in the
Now we have centers in Beit Shemesh, Abu Ghosh and the
Jerusalem neighborhoods of Gilo and the Katamonim. We have 120 volunteers in the
Although most of the free lectures focused on women in middle
and old age and how to preserve one’s physical and mental health, they were
attended by women of all ages – and some men.
Dorit Adler, Hadassah-Ein
Kerem’s chief clinical dietitian, spoke on “Healthy Nutrition for Quality
No society, she said, will be able to afford treatment for all
diseases connected to aging. Thus societies will have to prevent them. There are
dozens of things that affect the functioning of body and brain and hundreds more
that we don’t know about.
What we eat can have beneficial or damaging
Adler noted that the brain uses 16 times more calories than
muscle tissue and that the brain’s metabolism is a fifth to a quarter of all our
energy expenditures. Without food, the brain reduces its investment of energy in
memory so it can protect life.
When in physical danger, the body has more
urgent concerns. Thus, a short- or long-term lack of food affects both our
bodies and our minds.
The Hadassah dietitian said that sugar added to the
diet (beyond sugar found naturally in foods as in fruits) has a major role in
overeating, poor memory formation, learning disorders and depression. Blood
vessels supply oxygen and nutrients to the brain when the arteries remain clean
and function normally. This, she said, improves memory. An influential study
conducted by Prof. Iris Shai at Beersheba’s Ben-Gurion University of the Negev
studied the effects of a controlled diet over two years observed by employees in
Dimona’s nuclear plant.
There are no kiosks there, only one large dining
room used by all. Shai studied overweight people and divided them into three
groups; one group was fed a low-carbohydrate diet (including sugars), another a
low-fat diet and the third a Mediterranean diet of vegetables and fruit, olive
oil, pulses, nuts, fish, lean poultry, a minimum of red meat and reduced salt.
They were also asked to observe the same diets at home and elsewhere.
the end of the study, all three groups were found to have lost significant
weight and lowered their blood pressure – but those who followed the
Mediterranean diet did the best. A subsequent study at Hadassah under similar
conditions found that people who lost only five kilos in two years and had fatty
plaques in their carotid artery to the brain had much less of a
The diet actually cleaned up the blood vessels and repaired
Other diet studies conducted abroad reduced participants’ butter
and salt content, added nuts and olive oil and found that death rates from heart
disease and hypertension declined significantly, Adler related. The people of
China have among the highest rates of diabetes and complications, explained
Adler, because multinational fast-food companies opened branches there, and
people now take the car instead of biking.
There is now a proven recipe
for better physical and mental health and longer life, she continued. Those who
change their lifestyle, exercise regularly and lower their weight and salt and
alcohol consumption can reduce the risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease by
“And there are ways of reducing the risk of dementia,” said
Adler. “A Mediterranean diet, which is much kinder to a sustainable Earth and
does not erode the ability to grow food, is good for reducing the risk of
cognitive harm. It can lower the danger of mild cognitive impairment [MCI]
converting into fully fledged Alzheimer’s disease. The time has come to connect
what we put on our plate with whether we will be healthy or not.”
the worst foods often consumed in Israel are burekas, malawah and other foods
with trans-fats and white flour, as well as sweet drinks. Just one can of soft
drink a day significantly increases the risk of diabetes. Sugar is absorbed
quickly into the bloodstream. Avoid white flour and prefer full-grained bread,
rice, pasta and couscous.
Don’t use margarine. Eat healthy fats like
those in avocado, nuts, olive and canola oil. If you buy sweets and other foods
with empty calories “just for the kids” or the grandchildren, you will have an
excuse to eat them or will teach them bad habits. Don’t buy them at all, Adler
Adler presented a graphic “triangle” developed by Hadassah
nutrition and metabolism expert Prof. Elliot Berry that includes lifestyle and
not only what you eat. Berry endorses having family meals (the stuff that
pleasant memories are made of); drinking a lot of water; exercising; inviting
friends to eat healthful meals together; drinking herbal or other teas and even
coffee; consuming whole grains, olive oil, sweet potatoes, garlic, onion,
low-fat dairy products, eggs (if there is no cholesterol problem) and pulses
daily; and minimizing red meat, cookies, cakes and candy.
include wild salmon, blueberries and pomegranates, according to
Adler added that skipping breakfast is a nutritional
“Breakfast is breaking your fast after your nightly sleep. There is
little glycogen – a polysaccharide made and stored mostly in the cells of the
liver and the muscles that functions as as the secondary long-term energy
storage site in the human body,” said Adler. The nutritionist warned that
skipping breakfast has been shown to harm the ability to remember words or tell
a story – a clear problem for schoolchildren and students. “It is advisable that
everybody must eat a nutritious breakfast before leaving home in the morning,”
Up to four cups of coffee a day – without sugar – can help
reduce the risk of dementia, according to animal studies that apparently are
relevant to humans as well. A lack of iron and vitamin B12 can harm memory, but
supplements should be taken only after consulting a doctor, Adler asserted. Most
people think that taking vitamins and other supplements “will help or at least
won’t hurt” health. But the nutritionist said this is not true. There are cases
in which taking them can cause actual harm, she said.
“There are serious,
independent studies on vitamins and lung cancer in smokers that showed beta
carotene not only did not reduce rates of this cancer but even increased death
rates from it. Some nutrients are helpful only if consumed from food and not
taken in pill form.”
Ginkgo biloba, for example, remains a very popular
supplement sold in health food stores and pharmacies that was believed to
improve memory and lower the risk for dementia, said Adler.
“But only a
month ago, the US Food and Drug Administration issued a warning that gingko may
be carcinogenic, causing liver or thyroid cancer, and hemorrhaging of the brain.
So don’t believe the ads and don’t take supplements without consulting an
Cinnamon, however, helps balance blood sugar and improves
attention, memory and visual motor ability. There is much evidence that drinking
over two cups a day of unsweetened tea – especially the green type – can lower
the risk of age-related memory decline by over 50%. The overconsumption of
alcohol – more than two glasses of wine daily or their equivalent – can cause
memory problems, Adler continued. “If you have to consume alcohol, do so only
with food. Women can take much less safely than men, as it can increase the risk
of breast cancer.”
PROF. ZEEV Meiner of the geriatric neurology clinic in
the neurology department of Hadassah-Mount Scopus also lectured about memory
“Aging normally causes harm to memory.
Our brain matures
at age 18, and by the time we reach 30, the number of nerve cells in the brain –
which cannot replicate – begins to decline. The weight of the brain in old age
drops by 30% from what it was at 30. There are fewer synapses between neurons,
and amyloid plaques develop, allowing less blood flow. We are born with billions
of neurons; they die, and nothing can bring them back.”
Humans live up to
the age of 120, not only biblically. Only the tortoise lives longer, to about
150 years. People over the age of 85 are the fastest-growing group in the
When spaces develop in the hippocampus in the temporal part
of the brain, immediate recall, word fluency and verbal meaning, both long- and
short-term memory decline. This is normal, said Meiner.
people get older, communications, understanding and vocabulary increase because
we have a lot of life experience that can cover for the deficits. Yet when a
person develops dementia, his ability to cover up for the cognitive losses is
Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) may occur over the age of
“There’s a subjective feeling of less memory, but people can function
there is no pill to prevent it. But there is a risk of an
annual 10% memory decline towards dementia. Theoretically if people eat 30% to
50% fewer calories, their mental abilities would improve, but who can do that,”
the gerontologist continued.
“There is much evidence that regular
physical activity can improve memory.
Use it or lose it. A lifelong study
of nuns in a Kentucky convent found that those who had good mental and
intellectual activity at 16 suffered less dementia when they reached old
Among the brain-stimulating activities Meiner mentioned were
crossword puzzles, Sudoku and cards, going to museums, playing music or computer
games. Find what you like and do it on an ongoing basis.
depression reduces memory.
You need a positive attitude. Go out and see
people, he continued.
“Dementia is a very difficult disease, which we
treat in our clinic. A person loses his independence, develops lower functioning
and has to be cared for. He can’t be left alone. Alzheimer’s is the main cause
of dementia, but there are others, including depression, drugs, alcohol, liver
and kidney disease, benign brain tumors and reduced blood flow. Some can be
But Alzheimer’s is irreversible.”
There are four million
Alzheimer’s sufferers in the US and 100,000 in Israel.
Meiner praised the
activity of the voluntary organization Melabev, the EMDA organization and others
that help victims and their families.
“It is very hard for families and
caregivers especially. They are frustrated by constant repetition of questions.
Patients can get lost even in familiar surroundings and suffer personality
changes,” said Meiner. The changes in the brain can be viewed in CT, MRI and PET
scans, but they are best viewed after death, from a biopsy of the
“We hope that one day there will be drugs to slow the development
of Alzheimer’s, prevent and even cure [it],” Meiner concluded.